Can Leg Press Replace Squats ?

  • Home
  • /
  • Blog
  • /
  • Can Leg Press Replace Squats ?

Last updated on September 5, 2022

It’s leg day, and you’ve decided to work your quadriceps, those large muscles on the front of your thighs. So you’re stuck with the leg press vs. squats dilemma. This article will explore whether a leg press can replace a squat and the pros and cons of both exercise movements. We’ll also look at which exercise fits your gym goals better!


A leg press cannot replace the squat. The leg press and squats target the quadriceps (the muscles on the front of the legs), hamstrings (muscles opposite the quads and at the back of the thigh), and glutes (the muscles in the buttocks). The squat involves more body parts like the hips and the abs, whereas the leg press only targets the legs. 


Both the leg press and the squats target your leg muscles and strengthen them. Both have their advantages for anyone who wants to strength train and build muscle mass, and both can be used effectively to reach your muscle goals. The significant difference is that the squat is a more compound movement that targets other sections of your body. It may be tempting to choose one and ignore the other, but that might be the wrong move.


How Does a Leg Press Differ From a Squat?

Leg presses target only the leg muscles. Whereas the biochemical movements of the squat target your abs and hip area as well. Both are an integral part of strength training and can be used in combination to build muscle mass. Let’s look at each in a little more detail:



Leg Presses Squats
Performed on a machine Can be performed without a machine
Machine provides back support No back or spinal support
Weights are pushed with your feet Weight is either behind your neck or in front of you and lifted through your hands


Pros and Cons of the Leg Press

If the goal is to work your legs and build muscle mass, leg presses can help you do that. However, they can be risky if you try to move too much weight or lock your knees.



  • Your back is supported, and you have hand rests. This allows you to focus all your energy on your leg muscles.
  • You can target specific leg muscles by adjusting your foot position on the footpads.
  • Your quads get a more rigorous workout because there is less focus on the hamstrings and glutes as compared to the squat.
  • There is no need for a spotter




  • You cannot do the exercise without a leg press machine.
  • You can end up working one leg more than the other. The machine moves the same way regardless of the effort being put by each leg.
  • You run the risk of rounding your back if you try to press too much weight.
  • You can injure your knees if you press too much weight, or you can lock your knees when extending your legs.
  • You can end up piling on more weight than you can handle

You may also want to read 5 Leg Press Variations for Lower Body Strength.

The Pros and Cons of Squats

Squats are great for targeting your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. However, if you do them with free weights, you can injure yourself by trying to squat too much or losing control of the barbell.



  • Squats allow you to bring variation in your exercises. There are different varieties of squats that you can use to target other areas of the body
  • Squats can help in strengthening your back and core muscles
  • Squats are great for improving knee flexibility
  • Squats can improve your posture by encouraging you to keep your back straight.



  • Squats can cause back injuries if you lean too far back or round it too much
  • Your shoulders may get strained due to lifting a heavy barbell
  • You can get stuck in the middle of a squat and not be able to get back up
  • Your knees can get injured if you move them too far in or out during squatting
  • You may need the help of a spotter

A related article of interest is barbell front squat vs back squat.

Leg Press Variations You Can Try

There isn’t much room for variations when it comes to leg presses, but there are a few ways you can mix things up:


Higher foot placement

You can place your feet higher on the footpads for increased extension and contraction of your glutes and hamstrings. This will also reduce your knees’ range of motion during the exercise.


Lower foot placement

Lowering your feet on the footpad will increase your knees’ range of motion. This variation will work your quads more than your glutes and hamstrings.


One-leg leg press

You can use one leg at a time to ensure both legs are being worked properly. You have to make sure that the weight isn’t too much for one leg.

Squat Variations You Can Try

Squats can be done without weights, and they offer more variation than a leg press. Each variation can target a different region of your muscles.


Hack Squats

Hack squats can be done with machines or barbells. This variation puts less strain on your back because the weight is under your center of mass, not in front of or above it. You need to bend your knees to reach the barbell behind you, then stand up with the barbell across your buttocks or upper hamstrings.


Back Squats

This is the most commonly known squat variation among weightlifters. The weight is placed behind your neck, and you bend down and straighten up to complete one repetition.


Remember, you may want to lean a little forward to help with weight management on your back. Avoid doing this because it can strain your back.


Front Squats

Front squats are performed with weights or a barbell at shoulder length as you perform a regular squat. This variation is easier on the knees and back than back and hack squats.

Leg Press Vs Squats – Which is Better?

The answer will depend on your exercise needs. Squats are definitely better if you are looking for an exercise move that works your overall body together. However, if your focus is your leg muscles, you have back or leg pain, and balancing issues, leg presses are a better option for you.


Both exercises are great for working on your lower body. The best approach is to use a mix of both for building muscle and strength.


Research conducted in 2018 suggests that both exercises can be used in a balanced combination to work the lower body properly.

Safety Tips for Lower Body Workouts


body workouts can be tricky and involve back and knee injury risks. Here are some essential tips for working your lower body safely:


  • Be careful with weights. Do not overload on weights.
  • Take help from a spotter when doing squats
  • Don’t lock your knees when extending them while doing leg presses
  • Start with lighter weights and slowly increase them over time

You may also want to read 5 Leg Press Form Tips.

Frequently Asked Questions


1.    Are leg presses easier than squats?

Leg presses seem easier than squats because your spine isn’t actively engaged in a leg press. A leg press is done on a leg press machine, and your back is placed against a backrest. Your body is stabilized due to the machine.


2.    Should I do leg presses or squats on the same day?

Leg presses and squats work the same muscles and are complementary exercises. If you plan on doing both on the same day, it is best to manage weights so that you don’t overtrain your body. On the other hand, you can do either on alternative days.


3.    Should I start my leg day with squats?

It’s not necessary to start your leg day with squats. However, it is recommended that you do them early because they require a lot of energy and focus. This is especially true if you plan on incorporating deadlifts in your training while doing squats.

Final Thoughts

Leg presses and squats are great exercise moves if you want to focus on your lower body. They are both essential when it comes to strength training and building muscle. Both exercises work different muscle groups in your legs. It is best to use a combination of both for your leg day.

About the author  Steve

Steve Theunissen is from New Zealand and is a qualified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist with over 30 years experience. Read more about Steve in the 'about us' page.

Your Signature